Secretary of State John Kerry, accompanied by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, before the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing to advance President Barack Obama's request for congressional authorization for military intervention in Syria, a response to last month's alleged sarin gas attack in the Syrian civil war. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration’s push for congressional authorization to conduct military strikes in Syria continues Wednesday in the GOP-led U.S. House, where Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“Today the House begins formal consideration of the president’s request to use military force in Syria. It is a cliche, but true: There are no easy answers. Syria and much of the Middle East are a mess,” said Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif.
Kerry pressed the administration’s argument that there is a preponderance of evidence that chemical weapons were used, necessitating the need for a U.S. military response. “It did happen, and the Bashar al-Assad regime did it.” he said.
“The world is wondering whether the United States of America is going to consent through silence to stand aside while this kind of brutality is allowed to happen without consequence,” he said, appealing to lawmakers to consider their own place in history if they oppose action against Assad.
“And history, I think, everyone here knows holds nothing but infamy for those criminals (like Assad). And history also reserves very little sympathy for their enablers. And that is the gravity of this moment. That is really what is at stake in the decision that the Congress faces.”
The 46-member panel is populated by some of the more vocal opponents of the administration’s military effort on both the left and right, including liberal Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., who is whipping opposition to the joint resolution scheduled for a vote next week, and a faction of conservative lawmakers, such as Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., who have announced they will vote against it.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., asked for and received assurances from Kerry that Arab allies were willing to help the U.S. offset the costs of military engagement and that no U.S. troops will be placed on the ground in Syria.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to vote in committee today on its joint resolution, but there was little confidence on Capitol Hill Wednesday that the military strikes have the support to pass just yet. In the Senate, Obama is likely to need 60 votes to overcome a potential filibuster, and at least 217 votes are necessary in the House. There are two vacant seats in the 435-seat chamber.
The top four Republican and Democratic leaders in the House put their collective weight behind the resolution Tuesday, but party leaders won’t twist arms to get the votes because votes of this order are considered matters of conscience.
Lawmakers are likely to press administration officials on the long-term strategy in Syria and whether Obama intends to bomb Syria even if Congress does not give its approval.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., told CBS’ “This Morning” that she is leaning against the resolution but will make a final decision when she returns to Washington next week and receives more classified briefings. “I think that everyone agrees of the immorality of Assad’s actions and the gassing of his people,” she said. “What people are going to do is look at this and say what is in the best interest of the United States? For my constituents, they’re concerned about additional deployments and lack of definition in a mission.”
There are indications that support for Obama is building, even among his critics. GOP Reps. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who is on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Mike Pompeo of Kansas, who sits on the Intelligence panel, wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post in support of the resolution.
“We understand why many of our GOP colleagues are undecided about a use-of-force resolution. Indeed, we have reservations about the president’s implied course of military action. Yet Congress has its own constitutional duty to defend U.S. interests, and those interests shouldn’t be neglected simply because we have doubts about Obama,” they wrote.